A French gastronomic affair

IN HEAVEN, the cooks are French... and in hell, they are English. So goes a joke...

The whole world knows that when it comes to fine cuisine, the French are the tops. But even simple home-cooking is something that the French have perfected into an art and the homely meals whipped up by housewives in their kitchens in France are as delicious as they come.

The Alliance Francaise in Mumbai has now brought out a collection of popular home recipes of France _ recipes which are quite traditional, but simple enough to be cooked up right in our own kitchens. `French Home-cooking in Bombay' takes you on a delightful gastronomic trip round the countryside of France, to savour the delicate and at times hearty flavours of Mediterranean cuisine.

The book contains about 60 easy and famous dishes such as one may find on a French table and have been selected from the personal recipes collection of the French community in Mumbai. It is now being promoted through the branches of Alliance Francaise, including the one in the city, and the proceeds go towards helping Divyaprabha, a destitute girls' home in Mumbai.

A French gastronomic affair

The cuisine of the Mediterranean region has a unique blend of flavours and textures, lent by the abundant use of olive oil, wine, butter, cheese and a host of herbs like chives, rosemary or basil. Perhaps, not all these ingredients could be found in an Indian kitchen, but these are not hard to source either.

``Almost all ingredients commonly used in continental cuisine are easily available in the upmarket supermarkets here,'' says the director of Alliance Francaise here, Salira Lefevre, a French citizen who has been living in the city for the past two years.

Ask her if she recognises any familiar home recipes in the book and she is absolutely delighted.

``Oh yes, I can rattle off the names of many dishes that I regularly cook. Tapenade, a starter from Riviera, made of black olives is a regular dish during summers. Hachis Parmentier, a very traditional dish and Salad Nicoise, a typical salad from Nice are two dishes that I cook often.

Then there's Quiche Lorraine, a popular dish from Alsace in the east, crepes from Britanny, Sauce au Beurre blanc or white butter sauce for fish...''

The recipes are divided into three sections, starters, main course and desserts.

These include some very French dishes like Quiche lorraine, which is a short crust pastry with a filling of bacon, eggs and cream, laced with nutmeg and a classic Cheese Souffle to dishes such as Moroccan Chicken, which reflects the influence of immigrant cultures.

One also gets to know how geography plays an important role in French cuisine, for the local ingredients are what defines the cooking styles in each region of France. Normandy, in the North, has an abundance of cattle and hence its dishes are rich with a lot of butter, cream and cheese. Soups and stews from Britanny will invariably have seafood, especially prawns, while the local cuisine of Provence is known for its use of olives and herbs.

Check out the desserts section that has a number of dream desserts like Creme Brulee, Clafoutis, caramelised pear cake and the like.

To the Malayali palate, accustomed to food smothered in hot spice mixes, the delicate flavours of herbs, butter and cream should be a delightful experience.

By Maya C.

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